Kal Penn, actor and co-chair of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, spoke Sept. 14 at UW-Madison. Penn traveled to universities throughout Wisconsin Sept. 14-15 as part of an effort by the re-election campaign to energize young voters.
Students in Wisconsin play a key role in the upcoming presidential election. In 2004, presidential candidate John Kerry won Wisconsin by 9,000 votes. Students at UW-Madison delivered 15,000 votes that year, enough votes to sway the election.
Penn’s speech at UW-Madison aimed to inform students about the President’s accomplishments for young people since 2008 and encourage them to get involved with the re-election campaign on campus.
Penn became involved in politics in 2007 when he noticed that a friend was struggling.
“My friend was at a technical college and didn’t have enough financial aid and didn’t have health insurance. He realized one semester that he couldn’t see the board and that he had to get glasses.” Penn said. “My friend had exactly enough money to get an eye exam or to buy all of his textbooks. He couldn’t get both. That was really eye opening to me.”
“The President has fought for young people behind the scenes,” Penn said .
Penn shared some of President Obama’s accomplishments for students since being elected in 2008. He discussed the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a $10,000 credit available to eligible parents of college students over a four-year period, and the ability of students to stay on their parent’s health insurance until age 26.
Penn believes that technical colleges play an important role in the future of jobs in the United States.
“The President has made investments in science technology engineering and math (STEM), with the intention of bringing jobs back not just now but in the next 5-20 years. It’s really this investment in young folks, particularly in technical colleges, who are going to carry that baton forward and bring those jobs back, create those jobs and benefit from them the most,” Penn said.
Katie Chapman, an audience member and graduate student at UW-Madison, shared her reasons for voting for the president. “He has proven that he will fight for us and what we believe in,” Chapman said. Chapman is happy with the expansion of Pell grants and the recent prevention of interest rate increases for Stafford loans.
In 2008, Penn traveled throughout the United States with the Obama campaign performing a similar role. When asked if he has seen a decrease in youth enthusiasm this election season, Penn said no.
“One hundred fifty people are not an enthusiasm gap. What I’m seeing are packed rooms like this with overflow rooms. A majority of the questions I get are about the president and policy. They’re not about movies. These are young people who are incredibly bright who are sitting around on a Friday night asking policy questions,” Penn said.
Penn encouraged members of the audience to volunteer on campus. He suggested that students get involved by knocking on doors, making phone calls and by making sure that all students are registered to vote. “It really does come down to a couple of college students making sure their friends are registered,” he said.